Getting Back in the Game

Getting Back in the Game

As the popularity of Rigzone's series of articles about "The Great Crew Change" attests, ensuring that younger segments of the oil and gas workforce obtain the proper training and experience is a hot topic in the industry. Important as that aim may be, however, might the industry be overlooking an untapped resource as it seeks to attract a sufficient number of qualified technical professionals?

Consider the case of "Mac" (not his real name).

Mac, a geoscientist, first entered the oil and gas industry in the late-1970s boom period after starting his career in the mining sector with stints in Australia, Europe and North America. His entrée into oil and gas was unconventional because he did not join the industry as a mudlogger. Rather, the mining company he worked for was engaged in a joint venture with an oil company that was operating in the U.S. Rocky Mountain region.

A geophysicist with the oil company offered Mac, who has a physics minor, an opportunity to develop raw data processing, mapping and modeling systems.

"We were an unconventional group there that tended to use potential fields geophysics methods to focus our seismic budget," Mac recalled.

Eventually, Mac became director of research and development for a highly successful potential fields geophysical consultancy.

Mac said the artificial intelligence interpretation technologies that he and his colleagues deployed provided 90-percent confidence-level basement structure maps for the Williston, Uinta, Denver-Julesburg, Powder River and other basins and wildcat plays. He explained the tools calibrated against everything geological/geophysical that had been published to date on the areas, often identifying structural and stratigraphic opportunities unnoticed by others.

"These potential field, geological/geophysical integrated basement/stratigraphic interpretations could quite neatly narrow down where to spend your seismic and drilling budgets," said Mac.

"It really was a dream job," Mac noted.

Then came the rude awakening of the 1980s oil bust.

Mac, like thousands of others in the oil and gas industry during that period, saw his job disappear.

"I got ushered out of Denver in 1986," he remarked wryly, adding that he held no illusions about the cyclical nature of the industry. "The price of oil had dipped below $10 per barrel and was hovering in the teens in the 1985-86 timeframe."

Suddenly unemployed, legions of engineers, geoscientists and others considered their options. Some went into fields such as banking, education and law enforcement. One out-of-work geologist in Colorado started up a brewpub in Denver that became a success and contributed to the Mile High City's downtown revitalization. That entrepreneur later became the mayor of Denver and is now Colorado's governor.

Others managed to find similar work in other industries. For Mac, that meant becoming an environmental geologist.

"[I] have done quite well at it," he said.

Mac joined a major engineering consulting firm in Australia and became the manager of its environmental technology division. In the early 1990s, he became an independent environmental auditor with the authority to sign off on any site remediation in one of Australia's most populous states.

Several years later, Mac returned to the U.S. to manage two California offices for small and midsize environmental firms. He then became his own boss, designing, building, operating and closing site remediation systems throughout the Western U.S. He eventually returned to the corporate world. Presently, he is a senior-level environmental hydrogeologist specializing in fractured-rock aquifers and litigation support with a firm in Southern California. He adds that he even does mudlogging on environmental projects.

Mac, who readily admits that he obtains much personal satisfaction in environmental consulting, confesses that he would welcome the chance to spend the remainder of his career in oil and gas.

"I don't need a job, I have a nice one, I love what I do," Mac said. "But the truth of the matter is I have always been an explorer ... I really am addicted to exploring."

Ideally, he sees himself returning to his beloved Rockies and spending a decade or two with a "savvy exploration outfit" that would challenge him to find novel ways to apply the breadth of his experience. He also maintains that much of the work he has done in the environmental realm over the past 22 years -- such as shepherding front-end hydraulic fracturing operations, drilling horizontal wells and dealing with flowback water issues -- would readily apply to today's petroleum geology realities.

In fact, Mac sees his environmental expertise as a major selling point. After all, the level of scrutiny the oil and gas industry receives nowadays from the government, news media, activists and others is perhaps unprecedented.

"[Environmental considerations], frankly, should be everyone's first move these days," Mac said. "Would better up-front due diligence have prevented Macondo, Elgin or Frade? It's just risk management, which Macondo informs us, can be a pretty big part of exploration management, and cost."

Mac added that having someone with a track record of working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators enhances "the credibility factor" for an oil and gas company.

"Everyone in the extractives industries today will do much better financially if they practice avoidance instead of restoration," Mac said. "So I bring that to the table in a variety of ways."

Mac is convinced that he would be an asset to an E&P company, but so far he has failed to get his proverbial foot in the door with human resources recruiters and hiring managers. He said it has not been from a lack of effort, having submitted his resume seemingly countless times to what he calls "a web-based parser/shredder." He said the process of responding to job ads, and more importantly getting noticed, has been "frustrating and time-consuming."

He suspects that his situation is not unique. In his opinion, veteran professionals who want to return to the oil and gas industry are not landing interviews and jobs because the frontline recruiters are instructed to hone in on candidates with 7 to 15 years of experience while screening resumes. Such criteria would limit options for Baby Boomers such as Mac, who were forced out of the industry a quarter-century ago and managed to thrive elsewhere but nevertheless want back in.

"Imagine attracting someone who since being ushered out after the last bust has just been getting better and better at being a natural insurance policy against Macondos, knows the Cordilleran Orogen like few geologists have ever been given the chance to, and is actually interested in doing it once again," concluded Mac. "I don't know but it seems to me that I have a lot to offer."


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